It's okay. It's safe to come out now! The reign of uncertainty, where those who downloaded the leaked episodes from Game of Thrones Season 5 marauded around touting their knowledge is over! Turns out the people who binged through through the first five episodes of Game of Thrones Season 5 only caught on to one big spoiler that could have ruined everyone else's time. What with the changes HBO have been making, the risk factor of even book readers getting things spoiled was upped. I suppose HBO are glad they saved Hodor getting eaten by a squid while Bran conquers the Iron Islands for episode 9!
So it was all a big furore over nothing, and other than the obvious monetary disadvantage of fans downloading episodes (which happens on a staggering scale anyway) HBO and the fans of Game of Thrones got away pretty lightly, considering the fan base was briefly split and we didn't live under the merciless boot of the show runners for once. It begs the question, do spoilers even matter anymore?
IRONICALLY, SPOILERS FOR THIS WEEK'S GAME OF THRONES!
At the end of last week's episode, "The Sons of the Harpy", fans everywhere began trying to convince themselves that two characters that had just encountered rather deathy situations on screen weren't actually dead. When people were stating "if Ser Barristan and Greyworm are dead, I'm out!", it was actually kind of like when a cute dog's fate in a movie isn't confirmed. You're reaction always is "he's fine. The filmmakers would never be this cruel to me." All the while, people who don't respect internet piracy laws were chuckling to themselves with glee.
But what is this glee that we relish when we know more about where a show is going than others? It turned out this week that fans only had half a reason to be appalled. We lost a Barristan and gained a Greyworm. Was having knowledge of that before anyone else really such a joy? I could dump every book spoiler I know right here, and yet I don't feel like I wield some cosmic power just by being able to do so.
I suspect that the boasting people exhibit over other members of a fandom is less down to dominance, and more a case of feeling secure. Think about every time you've been behind on a show that seems to be the hottest topic, or when you're reading a book as fast as you can so you can keep ahead of a film adaptation. It's not a nice state to be in, so naturally, when you do manage to get ahead of the majority, you show off that fact. It's not about giving others a bad time, it's more protecting yourself from having things ruined for you. Like it or not, spoilers today are used as ammunition, and Game of Thrones is one of the most lively battlegrounds.
Having the job I do, I predictably had [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) spoiled for me, knowing a character was going to die before I saw it. Yet, when the moment occurred on screen, I didn't think "big deal! Someone on the internet told me this would happen!" I was in the moment enough for the film to have its intended effect. It's almost as if narrative anticipation and satisfaction aren't based on information alone. The same goes for Game of Thrones. Right from the beginning, I'd had it spoiled that Ned Stark would be beheaded, partly because someone told me and partly because come on it's Sean Bean! Yet the narrative weight and meaning of the moment is still retained even if I know how it will end.
Sometimes, knowing spoilers even enhances a viewing experience. I watch Serenity with an intense sense of dread and excitement because I know who will be dead by the end. What this boils down to is that narrative pay off is not based on a simple unveiling of information. That's what press releases are for. Shocking your audience can be a novelty, but it can't replace well executed story beats. Game of Thrones as a show is good at both these things, but we as a fan base only seem to focus on one of them. It seems many will gladly boast that they've seen the latest Game of Thrones, yet have no idea whether they've actually watched it. Wow that got complex... can't wait till next week when I can just complain about more changes they've made from the books. That's much easier.